By Solarina Ho
TORONTO (Reuters) - Canadian Pacific Railway , the country's second largest railroad, reported record quarterly results on Wednesday despite taking a hit from extreme winter weather in December.
The railroad also forecast its adjusted earnings would climb by at least 30 percent in 2014 with revenue growing by 6-7 percent from 2013, estimates that some analysts said appeared conservative.
"CP's profitability improvement in 2013 has been nothing short of spectacular," National Bank Financial analyst Cameron Doerksen told clients.
Shares of the Calgary, Alberta-based railway jumped as much as 8.3 percent on the Toronto Stock Exchange on Wednesday to a record high of C$171.31, before closing at C$165.00.
"We closed the year out only 4 percent off of best in class and second best in the industry," Chief Executive Hunter Harrison told analysts during a conference call. "We have got line of sight to be in best in class by the end of 2014."
CP Rail also said it would be making a decision soon on how to deploy its cash. Analysts have speculated the company will either increase its dividend or announce a share buyback, or both, this year.
EXPANDING CRUDE BY RAIL
The company said freight revenue rose 7 percent in the fourth quarter, bolstered by a jump in revenue from shipments of industrial and consumer products, including crude oil.
Shipping crude via railroads has surged across North America in the past few years as a boom in oil production has exceeded pipeline capacity. But a series of disastrous train derailments has put oil-by-rail under intense scrutiny as its safety is questioned.
CP said it moved 25,000 carloads of crude in the fourth quarter for a total of 90,000 carloads for the year. It said it was sticking with its forecast that it will be moving 140,000 to 210,000 carloads of crude oil a year by the end of 2015.
"We are online with our expansions in crude, but, at the same time, I'd say that we are not going to be going as quickly," said Chief Marketing Officer Jane O'Hagan. "There are lots of things that we need to watch in that marketplace around risk, around cars."
BMO analyst Fadi Chamoun said in a note that the railroad performed well despite challenging weather conditions during the quarter. He noted that CP improved its operating ratio by nearly 900 basis points in the quarter.
A railway's operating ratio shows the percentage of revenue needed to maintain operations, and is a key measure of efficiency. The lower the number the better.
The company said its adjusted operating ratio was a record 65.9 percent in the fourth quarter. It forecast its operating ratio would be 65 percent or lower in 2014.
CP said it is hitting its long-term goals ahead of schedule and CEO Harrison said the railroad could issue a new five-year plan by the time it hosts an analysts' meeting sometime this fall.
Harrison told analysts that 4,750 jobs have been cut since he became CEO in 2012, and said the company would break the 5,000-plus mark by the end of this year, with 85 to 90 percent coming from attrition.
"I am not a buyouter, okay? So some people learned that they were waiting for something that wasn't going to come, so they decided to move on," Harrison said.
CP Rail, which has one major labor contract to resolve this year, also said that it had a pension surplus in 2013, reversing an C$800 million ($721 million) deficit position in 2012.
CP Rail said poor weather during the last three weeks of December hurt its results and cautioned that the weather problems could continue.
"I don't know how bad this winter is going to be. I know if this first quarter continues like it is, and I hope it is not, we are going to have some catch-up to do in the next three quarters," Harrison said .
Net profit rose to C$82 million, or 47 Canadian cents a share, in the quarter ended December 31, from C$15 million, or 8 Canadian cents a share, a year earlier.
Excluding a pretax asset impairment charge of C$435 million and other one-time items, the company earned C$1.91 a share.
Analysts had expected earnings of C$1.95 a share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Revenue was up 7 percent at C$1.6 billion.
(Additional reporting by Ashutosh Pandey in Bangalore; Editing by Savio D'Souza and Peter Galloway)